Tom Osborne is one of 13 members of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Is Osborne Most Uniquely Qualified Expert?

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York’s N-Sider

In announcing the 13-person selection committee that will have the final word a year from December on the four teams that will launch a new era of college football, Bill Hancock wanted the public to understand that those 13 members bring roughly 230 years of college football experience to their future task. Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff and a longtime Tom Osborne admirer, pointed out the wide-ranging experience of a committee that includes 10 men who played college football, two former top-level university administrators, five current directors of athletics, three members of the College Football Hall of Fame, three former college football head coaches, a former United States Secretary of State, a former member of Congress and a retired three-star general.

It did not, however, define just who might be the most uniquely qualified expert among those 13 distinguished members. My choice would be Osborne, who represents nearly 20 percent of those 230 years of college football experience shared by 13 committee members. Osborne played four years of college football, coached 36 years in the game, was a top-level university administrator and a director of athletics for more than five years, plus a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and a member of Congress. For those counting, Osborne, 76, qualifies for six of the eight categories mentioned. Granted, he has never been a Secretary of State or a three-star general, but there’s another uniquely interesting fact that even the vast majority of Nebraska fans tend to forget or probably don’t even know.

T.O. Was Something Else: A Walk-On with Choices

A five-star member of the most discussed/scrutinized committee in the history of college football, Osborne was small-time before he became big-time. He walked on and played football at hometown Hastings (Neb.) College. Nebraska Head Coach Bill Glassford offered Osborne a football scholarship, and Husker Head Coach Jerry Bush offered him a basketball scholarship. But neither would allow him to play beyond their programs, so Osborne spurned both head coaches, plus a scholarship offer from Wyoming, to stay home and compete in multiple sports. “I really wanted to go to Oklahoma, but they didn’t offer me a scholarship,” Osborne said Wednesday, recalling how he worked construction to help pay his own way through college before going on to play two seasons with the Washington Redskins.  

Let the record show that the 13-member selection committee – unanimously chosen by the College Football Management Committee (a.k.a. the commissioners of the conferences overseeing the new playoff) – has a chairman who also played small-college football. Jeff Long, the Director of Athletics at Arkansas, played football and baseball at Ohio Wesleyan, so whenever he and Osborne take on their first challenge in the College Football Playoff, they can laugh and remember how simple the game once was. Hastings College and Ohio Wesleyan never worried about television contracts. They weren't consumed with strength of schedule, head-to-head competition or comparative outcomes of common opponents. Sure, injuries to key players were relevant, but they did not necessitate a high-level group discussion based on the impact one injury might have on national playoff-worthy teams.

Committee Members Will Analyze Injuries, Too

We make that point to project the enormity of what this committee is charged to decide -- exactly which four teams have earned the right to win the only recognized national major college football championship. In this instantly projecting, constantly trending world, one major injury to a pivotal player can change the word "in" to "out" for anyone. Remember when Kenyon Martin was the consensus National Player of the Year in college basketball 13 years ago? His Cincinnati team was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the conclusion of the regular season. Then Martin broke his leg in the first game of his team's conference tournament, so the NCAA Basketball Committee had to measure the impact that unfortunate injury would have on the Bearcats’ postseason prospects. What was a shoe-in No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament suddenly became No. 2, and it took a committee of experts to make that determination.

In a conference call and at a media session during Nebraska’s football practice Wednesday, Osborne mentioned the need for the College Football Playoff Selection Committee to make similar decisions on factors that influence teams competing to finish among the nation’s highly coveted final four.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney contacted Osborne two months ago, creating “trepidation” for the Hall-of-Fame coach about becoming part of the committee. Hancock's subsequent call formally asked Osborne to commit, and after asking for a couple days to think about it, Osborne told Hancock: "I'll take a shot at it”.

His Back-and-Forth Watching Drives Wife Crazy

Osborne is a bit obsessive about college football. “It’s probably not healthy," he said. "I tend to watch Thursday night and Friday night, and I probably watch four or five games on Saturday. It drives my wife crazy because I flip back and forth, and she does not like to watch football that way. So I watch quite a bit, but this will be a little different.”

Osborne deliberated before accepting membership in the committee “because it’s not going to be a bed of roses,” he said. “It's going to be controversial. It hasn’t been real difficult most years to figure out who's No. 1 and who’s No. 2. They tend to separate themselves, but to separate 3 and 4 from 5, 6, 7 and 8 is going to be real difficult. We'll probably have a lot of one-loss teams who are comparable. I think there’s going to be a lot controversy over this. It’s going to have to be a little arbitrary … hopefully, we’ll do the best job we can.”

In cases where Nebraska might be involved, Osborne will benefit from automatic recusal. On the same conference call, Archie Manning did not know how to answer the question of his potential role in the cases of Ole Miss, where he and son Eli played, or Tennessee, where son Peyton played. Osborne suspects Archie also will be recused, but added that neither would allow bias to influence their decisions. Moving forward, Osborne expects committee members will be asked to concentrate on certain conference-specific areas, so they can build a high level of expertise for comparitive analysis.

Osborne Will Enjoy Next Year Out of Limelight

Inside the Hawks Indoor Practice Facility, Lincoln columnist Steve Sipple asked Osborne how he could fade out of the limelight when he accepts a position like the one just announced. “I’m not sure how high profile this thing is,” Osborne said. “There are 13 members on this committee. There will be a lot of scrutiny over a period of four or five weeks. We probably won’t get real serious about it until the middle of the season. We’ll have four to five meetings to try and narrow things down a little bit. Then, I imagine there will be a lot of scrutiny in December – a year from now. I’ll enjoy being out of the limelight at least a year, so don’t call me.”

Omaha columnist Sam McKewon asked Osborne who would be the group's spokesperson. Long, his fellow small-college football player, is the chairman, Osborne said before adding: “I don’t think they’re going to muzzle any of us. I think anybody can certainly say what they want to. I think everybody will be a little circumspect. I don’t think they’re going to go out there and make a bunch of rash statements.”

Osborne is a soothing, calming voice of reason in the limelight that hangs over college football. He is the most uniquely qualified expert on this 13-person committee. His roots dig deeper into the game than anyone else. He already breaks down tape for a Legends Coaches Panel that he still serves. He receives film that he can click back and forth to understand every nuance that’s there ... a skill set that Barry Alvarez has. The former Husker and current Wisconsin Athletic Director also was named to the College Football Playoff Selection Committee Wednesday. Integrity was priority No. 1 for membership, along with football expertise, objectivity, ability to evaluate carefully and then discern information, and experience making decisions under scrutiny.

Who’s More Decisive about Ties than Osborne?

“Somebody’s got to do it, and I like football,” Osborne said about accepting a role that guarantees controversy. “I watch it anyway, so I thought I would go ahead and do it. We have a lot of really good, intelligent people, and I feel I can add something. I think it’s important to have people on there who know a little bit about a zone blitz and the short-side option which I used to run all the time and everybody didn’t like it.”

Osborne laughs when he makes that statement. In my mind, he’s not only the most uniquely qualified expert on this committee, but also the perfect tie-breaker if a 6-6 vote ever requires a decision among its 13 members. We all know how much Tom Osborne disdains a tie. We also know that if Coach Osborne ends up on the wrong side of such a situation, he will bounce right back and engage the process with the same fervor he had before losing a heart-breaker. And maybe, just maybe, that’s the biggest boost Osborne can bring to everyone who professes a passion for a game that we all love.  

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